Tristan Bates Theatre, London – until 8 April 2017
There are too many themes running through Sublime, too many aspects that aren’t sufficiently resolved or explored within Sarah Thomas’ writing. Sophie (Adele Oni) and Sam (Michael Fatogun) are brothers but possibly lovers; they are estranged but familiar; the robberies go well and then suddenly go wrong. There’s a fractious relationship between Sam and his girlfriend’s father Nigel (Declan Cooke) and some shady dealings that are never quite clear even when explained. The only constant is the somewhat vacuous ignorance of girlfriend Clara (Suzy Gill).
The premise of a jewellery heist, the glitz and glamour of living in the shadows, is enticing – a fictional world that promises escapism, freedom and taking control. Certainly Sophie (Oni) has seemingly embraced it fully, returning to the UK after two years in Corsica and Monaco, orchestrating the shipment of illegal diamonds, cases of wine and initiating gambling cons. The atmosphere on her return is cold and frosty, not simply because she left without telling her brother Sam (Fatogun) where she went. As Sublime progresses, there is one more big job to recover some of the Hatton Garden loot, undiscovered and yet to be claimed after the 2015 robbery. Sam unwillingly returns to a life of crime, initially drawn to helping his long-lost sister in need of his expertise, but ultimately falling back into the seductive world outside of the law. Fixers; drivers; bullion – all banded around to paint a fantastical picture that draws the audience in.
The problem with any crime storyline today is that right from the start, the audience is beginning to guess what the twist may be. In Sublime, Thomas writes in a number of these that are unconnected, with no climax to the big reveal, the explanation that slots all the puzzle pieces into place. As such, the second half falls completely flat and out of left field. The big job is planned, emotion clouds judgement and there is a hitch in proceedings. But suddenly the mark reveals himself to be fully in control – Cooke provides a suitable characterisation of a drunken lowlife, gun in hand and slur to his voice. In these little ways, Thomas adds colour and detail to her script, small points are noted and passed over to add depth to the world in which she places her protagonists.
Thomas is also able to draw on the different divides that naturally segment society – in this case class and race are natural sticking points. Sam and Sophie are orphans, abandoned and alone throughout their youth but using crime to rise above their humble beginnings. Clara and Nigel by contrast are born with silver spoons in their mouths, their wealth achieved from legal, capitalist corruption, but potentially peppered with shady dealings and backhanders. All characters play to their strengths and backgrounds, caricatures of their upbringing, except for Sophie (Oni) who feels confused and muddled. Oni jumps between personalities, never grounding herself in any one state of mind – the intention may be to throw the audience off and keep her guarded and aloof, but simply provides an instability to the show. Sam (Fatogun) and Clara (Gill) are more comfortable to watch – Gill is simple and superficial, whereas Fatogun seems surer of his intentions and natural within the dialogue.
Sublime feels too much like an episode of Hustle, elements of Elementary thrown in for good measure. The anti-hero is the villain here, the tables are turned as the underworld is probed and examined. But there is too much dialogue that doesn’t go anywhere, too many sub-plots that don’t resolve and cloud the core of the story. Sublime needs a lot of pruning, stripping it back to the bones of the deceit and exposing the emotion of estrangement within.